I’ve tried to maintain a complete news black out since the election. It hasn’t worked. The desire to know or to try to know what’s going on is greater than my desire to live in another time. What does this have to do with the Ecological Landscape Alliance Conference (ELA) and specifically Noel Kingsbury. It turns out that ecological plant speak has a lot in common with the political language of our day.
Kingsbury gave three talks in one day at the ELA Conference in Amherst, MA. It was a marathon for him and a joy for those of us in the audience.
AM – Predicting Long-Term Plant Performance
PM – Contemporary Approaches to Sustainable Design from Europe
Dinner – The Evolution of Ecological Landscape Design.
Reading the plant might be Kingsbury’s mantra. The key to plant longevity is about secession. Some plants are genetically programmed to live for a short-time and others, like Miscanthus, are bomb-proof. Plants can either ecologically compete with each other or co-exist. Competition is all abut plant survival and developing a strategy that looks at the living world as competitors, stress tolerators and pioneers.
Competitors are highly mobile, shift resources and dominate fertile sties. Paradoxically, fertility can result in a severe loss of diversity. Kingsbury calls this unpacking the paradox. Poor soils can have an amazing level of diversity. Plants must fight it out among themselves.
For Kingsbury, one way to determine plant longevity is taking the rabbit’s eye view, which means getting down on your hands and knees and understanding the root system of a plant.
In his second talk of the day, Kingsbury had lots to say about the German approach, the Oudolf aesthetic, Dan Pearson’s Millennium Forest Garden in Japan, the Sheffield school of James Hitchmough and a very few practitioners in France and Spain. Using Piet Oudolf as example, Kingsbury suggested to the audience that taking a color photograph of your garden and turning into black and white can tell you a lot: Does the garden still look “good” Does it have tonal depth and structure?
So I decided to do my own little experiment. Taking a photograph from Randall’s Island and converting to it black and white.
For the his last talk of the day, Kingbury spoke about The History and Evolution of Ecological Planting Design. He traced the beginnings of English garden design, starting with Frances Bacon, moving forward with Capability Brown, jumping over to Germany, giving a shout out to Alexander Von Humboldt, walking into the 20th century with Karl Forester and Richard Hansen, making his way across the pond to Thoreau, Jens Jensen and back to the Netherlands.
Very few women were mentioned. At the end of the talk, Kingsbury asked for questions. “What about women innovators in garden design? Kingsbury thought for a moment. Answer: Beth Chatto. This was a great way to end the evening; after all it was March 8: A Day Without Women.